Tuesday 29 March 2011

Unlocking the Salford Quays

The sculpture trail was opened on Sunday 27 March. I went to the event and it became for me yet another Artist’s Treat.
I have to admit, though, it was quite a shock walking into the Lowry and first up seeing a screen with me on it and the rest of Diva’s Dockers performing the Salford song.  Never mind, the day got better.
The walk around the Sculpture Trail takes about one hour, though it took me ninety minutes, as I stopped to watch a display of dance by young people, chatted to the guide at each spot and spent time reading the rubric at each spot.
It was a mild day and very pleasant for walking. It was flat, anyway. It struck me that there is a lot about the Quays that I don’t know. I found some interesting houses as I wandered around. It’s always pleasing anyway to see the wildlife that exists on the former Ship Canal now that the industry has gone.
I managed to catch the tail end of one of the guided walking tours that had ended up at the final sculpture, The Casuals. The sculptures themselves give a real sense of Salford’s history. Listening to this talk enhanced my feeling of connection with the past – especially as the son of one of the former dockers was there.
I ended the afternoon at a drinks reception in the Quays Bar. The Lowry gives you a fantastic view of the Quays, especially from that bar.
There is some sadness at the passing of the old way of life “what once was, is no more, memories of the Salford docks”… “a way of life has now changed, gone are the pubs and the big steel cranes.” Yet there was also a feeling of celebration about what the area has now become.

Friday 11 March 2011

Writers and Time

I tried to write 1,000 words a day. I mainly managed it – at the time when I was a full-time teacher and had young children. A few years in I decided to do an MA in Writing for Children.  By then my little children were teenagers, with all that that brings along, and I was Head of Modern Languages at a quite difficult comprehensive. The writing was a little more demanding because it had two masters: the academy and the industry. Nevertheless, I managed to write a lot: MA assignments, competition entries, and some projects of my own. This happened after 10 p.m. on week days, at weekends and during the school holidays.  
I eventually got published and decided to give up the day job, though still did supply teaching and one-to-one tuition. One book deal led me to upping my daily quota to 2,000 words. I now have over 50 works in print and could class myself as a full-time writer. I have a job as a lecturer in creative writing because of my writing. I still aim at 2,000 words or two hours writing a day. I’ve actually found that even with all the time in the world, I can rarely do more than this. After the first two hours, the energy flags. Because of the other things a writer has to do – and most of what I do for the university can be described as just that – there sometimes isn’t time to do the actual writing.
Many writers recognise this. Jacqueline Wilson now often writes on the train, Alan Gibbons in hotel rooms and Philip Pullman misses his earlier routine of writing for a couple of hours after a busy day teaching.
I know many writers, in fact, who have given up the day job and are now writing less than they did before. It’s almost as if they needed the other routines of their lives to make this one stick. Maybe there is also an element of now having less to write about as they have less contact with the outside world.
So, getting published isn’t the golden ticket to a life where you stay cocooned in your writer’s room, sending the works electronically and watching money being transferred into your bank account. It often means you’ve got to get out there, get behind your book and help sell it, and that can sometimes put a squeeze on your writing time. We have to learn even more self-discipline now. We must be able to write in any circumstance and to drop into writing mode without difficulty after a busy time doing other things. We may no longer have the luxury of a room of our own and of an uncluttered mind that we had before we were published.

Thursday 3 March 2011

Artist’s Treat Bury Museum and Art Gallery

I actually got around to awarding myself an Artist’s Treat yesterday. The first one since September. The Artist’s Treat is recommended by Julia Cameron, of The Right to Write and The Artist’s Way. One needs to get away from the thoughts and ideas, the black-and-whiteness of words on a page and from the constant need to hit a deadline.
One needs colour for starters. And life. So actually anything will do. I chose a museum and art gallery – preceded by a ride on the tram.
There’s also a need to do nothing. I remembered a similar exercise from my MA in Writing for Children, University of Winchester, when we were invited to walk around the cathedral without any expectations. I was taken by surprise, and hey-ho, the story that came then is appearing at last, 13 years later, in the Bridge House 2011 charity collection.
Yesterday’s treat was a visit to Bury’s Museum and Art Gallery. I found out more about the Sculpture Trail, which some of my colleagues are working on and which is partly situated in the country park opposite where I live. Paintings are always good, anyway, for bringing colour. The latest installation tells of a life and a death and interfaces with serendipity. It was good to talk about this to one of the guides.
Then, an amble through the rest of the town centre.
Retail therapy just does not do it for me any more. Maybe the sitting in a café and leafing through the brochures I’d picked up at the museum was a luxury. Even so, I’d have rather been at home getting on with my creative and critical bits and pieces. I don’t think I need a hobby any more. The treat begins to feel more like a chore.
However, I suspect the contrast is still necessary.